In his essay for Project: New Cinephilia, Toronto-based critic Adam Nayman talks about the success of his “Controversial Directors” series at a local community center, saying the challenge was to “retain my critical voice without alienating the uninitiated”:
If there is a fine line between speaking from authority about cinema—conveying the history and context for a specific work, say, or demonstrating the tools of analysis we use to read and appreciate film—and simply talking down to an audience (or friend, family member, et cetera), what is it? And how do we negotiate that?
I like Nayman’s suggestion of Kubrick as the ultimate “gateway” director;
“young film enthusiasts tend to find him early and then use him as a portal to other wings of cinema history”
Finding these access points that got us into cinema in the first place and then led us to seeking out new experiences and finding common ground, this is an important place of enquiry to encourage new audiences.
“The question was: which other filmmakers combined the requisite artistic bona fides with the sort of “brand-name recognition” that could entice both my regular students and new recruits in equal measure?”
We can probably all name filmmakers or films that sparked our imaginations and sent us on the path to deeper engagement with film culture, but what is also interesting in Nayman’s reflection is its focus on the path itself (in this case informal education) and what it offers for both students and teacher.
I am of the personal opinion that the best way to teach any non-specialist any specialist information is to apply it to their own interests. When you are the professor of a film studies class, it is taken for granted that the students should be there with open minds to be taught; students complaining about not watching Star Wars or whatever should realize its their own damn problem. In a community teaching setting, a lot of the accessibility of classics may have to do with simply finding something that is intelligent and engaging, without being too confrontational or controversial. As a teacher or a lecturer, you must “know your audience” just as much as any performer or artist.
I take a lot of time and effort to find the personal interests of a person when they inquire unto me personally, “What are some good movies? What is great cinema? What should I watch if I want to learn more about movies?” I don’t just start listing off movies willy-nilly, I try to figure out what they’re interested in. "Well my favorite movie is Lord of the Rings " means to me it’s time for some Kurosawa in their diet. This would not be the case if their favorite movie is Kill Bill. I’d rather point them to movies Kill Bill actually references.
I am a full believer in “bridge” or “gateway” cinema because I am a product of it. I went from believing that movies were only Hollywood fluff with the greatest example being Jurassic Park, to having a deep and unapologetic love for everything Antonioni, Keaton, and Mizoguchi, via watching movies by directors like Spike Jonze, Neil Jordan, and David O’Russell (all directors I mention because I’ve ceased to really pay attention to them individually anymore). I feel a lot of resistance of this idea of gateway cinema or bridging interests because of a sort of intellectual pessimism. I worked at a DVD sale/rental store for four years and many customers got to know me through my recommendations. There were ALWAYS the “But that’s an OOOOOoooooLLLLllllDDD movie!” (speaking about something made in, like, the early 90s) type responses but the fact is I pushed a lot of product that I personally valued by being patient and listening to other peoples’ interests.
Dusan Makavejev would be interesting for this class. Maybe a bit much but there’s no point in doing a “soft” approach to controversy.
Context is everything. I have had teach film theory to non-major college students. At times, an unpleasant task. Honestly, there is very little that can be done for people who are simply not interested. If you have enough time, it is possible to get through, but only if the uninterested communicate with you.
As for everyone else, in my experience it’s relatively simple and obvious. The best way to get people interested in cinema is to watch cinema. It is surprising how many people have not even seen the classics, let alone some of the more obscure, lost gems. I once received a paper from a student on “Sunset Boulevard” that opened with the sentence “I have never seen a movie made before 1980”. The student seemed to really enjoy “Sunset Boulevard”, and actually wrote several decent papers.
My experience would indicate that it’s largely cultural. If there is an environment where cinema is talked about and celebrated than people will be interested. If going out to see a Goddard film at midnight seems strange and esoteric (let’s be honest, we have all done it) than the majority of people are going to remain largely uninterested.
Revival houses are among the best assets. Making great films a social experience has helped me immeasurably in teaching. I once was able to draw 22 students out on Wednesday to see a screening of “The Silence”. If I have given those 22 students a DVD, 10 of them might have watched it.
Also, it is very important to support your theories with well researched information. People tend to suffer from “The Emperors New Clothes” syndrome. In other words, if they don’t understand something, than it must be some type of elaborate con job. I teach “Blow-Up” every year, and all of the Antiononi interviews, and making of research really helps with the skeptical. Always know what your talking about. It is important that critics and scholars are held to a much higher standard. Part of the problem with the film culture at large is the embarrassing amount of poor, unresearched writing often presented as scholarly and expert.
The best way to get people interested in cinema is to watch cinema
yes. an ultra-marathoner who has run races on 6 continents for 4 decades can cite all sorts of obscure data and charts and forms and recommendations and theory to a beginner but there is no substitute for just running. all that data may enhance the run but the run is still the thing. if you follow that. let the movies themselves do the work